Savvy nutrition advice from food coach Cynthia Sass, M.P.H., R.D., author of Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds, Lose Inches (Harper Collins, January 2011)
It's been called "Grandma's penicillin," and with good reason: Studies confirm that a hot bowl of soup can reduce inflammation and clear away mucous to ease the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections. Don't have time for homemade? You don't have to settle for super-salty, preservative-packed canned soups anymore: The new breed of packaged soups stick to Grandma's all-natural recipes. Here's what to look for:
Read the ingredients. Don't buy a soup that lists any ingredient you wouldn't use at home. Organic tomatoes, carrots, green beans and corn? Great! Monopotassium phosphate, hydrolyzed wheat gluten, disodium guanylate and hydrogenated anything? Not so much. And insist on whole grains—brown rice and whole wheat pasta—for a satisfying dose of fiber.
Hold the sodium. Even if you don't have high blood pressure or other risk factors for heart disease, it's a good idea to limit your daily sodium to 1,500 mg. Frozen soups have the least sodium—often as little as 40 mg per serving—whereas canned soups need more sodium as a preservative. If you make canned soup a regular part of your diet, you can keep your daily sodium under 1,500 mg by cutting out salty snacks and processed meats at other meals. Drink plenty of water, and eat potassium-rich foods like bananas, avocado, beans and low-fat yogurt, which can help flush excess sodium out of your system.
Eat only one serving! Most soup packages hold two servings, but the nutrition data on the label is based on one. If you plan on polishing off the whole container, multiply that info by two. It can be tricky to store half a can of soup, which is one reason why I love Pacific Natural Foods' Cashew Carrot Ginger—you can pour out a serving and then reseal the top and pop it in the fridge.
Turn soup into a meal. A complete meal requires whole grains, vegetables, lean protein and heart-healthy fat. That means getting creative with some packaged soups: Toss in extra veggies, beans or tofu, quinoa or wild rice and low-fat cheese or yogurt. Below, four of my favorite packaged soups, with my "Make It a Meal" suggestions.
- Lucini Tuscan Tomato and Basil Soup Why I love it : 100 calories and 4g fiber per serving Make it a meal: Add ½ cup wild rice, ½ cup cannellini beans and 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- Amy's Kitchen Hearty Spanish Rice & Red Bean Soup Why I love it : 140 calories and 5g fiber per serving Make it a meal: Garnish with 2 Tbsp chopped walnuts
- Health Valley No Salt Added Organic Lentil Soup Why I love it : Only 25mg sodium, 8g fiber, 9g protein per serving Make it a meal: Fold in ½ cup red quinoa and garnish with ¼ chopped Hass Avocado
- Pacific Natural Foods Organic Light Sodium Butternut Squash Soup Why I love it : 90 calories, 50 percent of your daily vitamin A per serving Make it a meal: Toss in ¼ cup cooked whole wheat penne and 3 oz cooked extra-lean ground turkey, then top with 1 Tbsp roasted red pepper pesto
From our sister publication, REMEDY (Winter 2010)